In the year 726 C.E., the Byzantine emperor Leo III issued an
edict declaring images to be idols, forbidden by Exodus, and
ordering all such images in churches to be destroyed. Thus
commenced the first wave of Byzantine iconoclasm, which ran its
violent course until 787, when the underlying issues were
temporarily resolved at the Second Council of Nicaea. In 815, a
second great wave of iconoclasm was set off, only to end in 842
when the icons were restored to the churches of the East and the
The iconoclast controversies have long been understood as marking
major fissures between the Western and Eastern churches. Thomas F.
X. Noble reveals that the lines of division were not so clear. It
is traditionally maintained that the Carolingians in the 790s did
not understand the basic issues involved in the Byzantine dispute.
Noble contends that there was, in fact, a significant Carolingian
controversy about visual art and, if its ties to Byzantine
iconoclasm were tenuous, they were also complex and deeply rooted
in central concerns of the Carolingian court. Furthermore, he
asserts that the Carolingians made distinctive and original
contributions to the whole debate over religious art.
Images, Iconoclasm, and the Carolingians is the first book
to provide a comprehensive study of the Western response to
Byzantine iconoclasm. By comparing art-texts with laws, letters,
poems, and other sources, Noble reveals the power and magnitude of
the key discourses of the Carolingian world during its most dynamic
and creative decades.
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